A Quick Flashback!
Supply Chain field has a serious talent shortage problem – right from the driver to the middle management levels. About 20-25 years back, when Supply Chain field was recognized as an important function in an organization, many people from sales, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, procurement moved into this field. It opened new avenue for the people to grow their career as well as provided them the opportunity to do something different and exciting. These people belonged to “baby boomers” category, who have retired by now or Generation X that is nearing retirement age. Over last 20 years, the industry has not been able to build the talent pipeline commensurate with the growth. This is because people who got into supply chain were so busy finding a ground for themselves, that the talent development was never a focus area. Today only 1 out 6 supply chain people are professionally qualified for the job they do.
Despite all the buzz created by companies and media, the image and attractiveness of supply chain function remained below what was expected. If you go to an undergraduate or post graduate classroom in a college and ask people to raise hands for different career options, you will find least number of hands raised for the supply chain! I do this exercise, whenever I get an opportunity to interact with students. The supply chain education and jobs have been perceived as dull, boring, devoid of creativity and excitement. It has been positioned as more operational in nature than strategic. In most of the colleges, supply chain is being taught as part of “Operations Management”. It’s no surprise that supply chain is not a career of choice for many.
How to attract Generation Z to Supply Chain Career
In order to answer the question, we must understand how does this generation thinks, acts and what it expects.
- Gen Z has grown with technology & social media around them, therefore, they look for technology solution to their problems and their life revolves around apps. If your organization is a laggard in adopting technology, there is little possibility of attracting this talent. Secondly, the technology has to be device agnostic so that they could use their own devices at work. The user interface of the technology needs to imbibe bite-sized, quick response habits similar to Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat etc. to engage this generation.
- Gen Z decides much early in life about the career directions, whether it’s music, blogging, mass media, beauty, ethical hacking – there are no rules for what is good or bad. The access to information at an early age plays a major role in shaping their decisions. So it’s important to capture their imagination at the K-12 level. APICS came out with school level Supply Chain STEM educational outreach program to demonstrate the importance of supply chain management and the promising career paths available to them. It involves fun games and activities while learning about supply chain management. Other industrial bodies and trade associations need to take a leaf out of APICS book to launch similar initiatives at the school and college levels. Gen X and Y should proactively reach out to colleges, engage the students through talks, competitions, internships and projects.
- Gen Z is money motivated, willing to work hard, looks for financial security but they also equally care for the purpose in life and what they do (from a survey conducted by Monster). Most of them have seen the great recession and possibly their parents or kin losing jobs. They are more practical, entrepreneurial and willing to experiment. The supply chain community needs to change the operational image of supply chain to one that has the potential to transform the business. Advanchainge has tied up with Inchainge BV to conduct supply chain challenge in India, using experiential learning simulation – The Fresh Connection. The heart of the simulation is to turnaround the business by making strategic and tactical decision in supply chain management. It’s currently being done for corporate but we are trying hard to convince many colleges (hope we will succeed one day)!
- Gen Z hates to take directions from anyone, be it parents or teachers. However, in many supply chain organizations, the management style is tilted towards authoritative. While that’s understood, given the operational nature of some of the execution activities, it could be detrimental in attracting the talent. Gen Z prefers participative management style and higher degree of delegation. Micro management is a big turn-off for this group. Therefore, companies would need to create more meaningful roles, involve this group in decision making and create more vibrant work environment.
- Gen Z would look for faster career advancements and not follow the beaten down paths for growth. They will want individual career parts and capitalize on the experiences by lateral movements in roles. However, in many supply chain organizations, it is sill not very common for people to move between the logistics, procurement, planning, manufacturing or customer service roles. Therefore, the organizations will need to focus on end to end supply chain competencies development to enable flexible career paths. It won’t be easy to make this group sit in dull and boring training programs conducted in classroom set-up. They would like to learn on demand – whenever and wherever. The training will have to give way to online, short bite-sized learning capsules, delivered in an interesting manner, using gaming and interactivity.
The war for supply chain talent will not be easy. The organizations, that take proactive approach in adopting these measures, will be able to attract and retain talent better than others. Big names and brands are no longer the passport for attracting the best talent.